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Health First Europe attended the 3rd Annual Fit for Work Europe Conference, held on 18 October in a two-session event. The first session, at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, focused on the importance of making musculoskeletal diseases (MSDs) a public health and work priority at EU and at national level by proposing concrete, practical steps and solutions for patients to return back to work as soon as possible. Afterwards, the second session at the European Parliament was opened by the Ambassador of Fit for Work Global, Lech Wałęsa, former president of Poland (1990-1995), chaired by MEP Antonyia Parvanova (Bulgaria, ALDE) and co-hosted by MEP Edite Estrela (Portugal, S&D), Stephen Hughes (UK, S&D) and Jean Lambert (UK, Greens) also contributed to the political debates addressing MSDs and work capacity in EU health and employment policies.

In Europe, MSDs are a major cause of incapacity in the working-age population, with over 40 million EU workers suffering from MSDs. The Co-President of Fit for Work, Prof. Stephen Bevan, presented the need for EU and national policy-makers to emphasise MSDs as a global issue in order to coordinate more regulations for health and employment policies. According to Professor Bevan, work is good for health and should be promoted by clinicians as a priority outcome for patients. The role of policymakers is to prioritise initiatives for facilitating the exchange of good practices and better evidence from experts, policy-makers, patients, general practitioners etc. with a common focus on returning to work. This support would help to coordinate action between stakeholders to promote work throughout healthcare system regulation.

During the second session, MEP Antonyia Parvanova insisted that MSDs represent a health challenge and also an economic issue that Europe needs to tackle. Regarding European initiatives such as Europe 2020, the Employment Strategy and the European Innovation Partnership on Healthy and Active Ageing –all which support this issue – policymakers must continue to highlight MSDs (and chronic diseases as well) as a key priority for the EU political agenda. As Chair of the European Parliament Interest Group on Musculoskeletal Diseases, MEP Estrela called on the European Parliament to consider MSDs as an important cause of disability and inactivity in Europe, note the importance of the Workability on MSDs, prevent chronic mental diseases by promoting early detection, treatment and monitoring, create new healthcare delivery models and improve clinical management aims to keep people active as long as possible

To keep European citizens healthy, Isabel de la Mata, from the European Commission, Principal Adviser – Public health and risk assessment, DG SANCO, insisted on the need for all stakeholders to make a convincing case for investing in health as an engine of future growth, relating the health sector to employment, research and education policies. The European Commission’s redesigned European Health Programme intends to bring a clear EU added value in the public health sector at large. Four objectives have been described: promoting health and preventing disorders; ensuring innovative efficient and sustainable health systems; enabling patients more access to better and safer health care systems; and protecting citizens from cross-border health threats.

Fit for Work Europe made clear it has a role to play on the EU scene regarding increasing the awareness of MSDs and helping people suffering from MSDs in their daily working lives. Fit for Work declared that health promoting activities at the workplace must be perceived as an innovation model, fostering innovation management for a healthier Europe. MSDs represent a societal challenge and multi-sectoral issue that has to be driven forward in order to help EU Member States and the European Commission implement existing mechanisms from the national level to the EU level.